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The Open Contracting Data Standard in 2021: Less complexity, more use

Some of the countries publishing their open procurement data in the Open Contracting Data Standard publish millions of procurement processes each year. In others, the procurement agency has focused on increasing the quality of the data published. 

One of the goals under our current strategy is to both increase the number of OCDS publishers, so that there is more data, as well as to improve the quality of publication, so that the data is more usable. We also want to see more of the tools that were built using OCDS data reused, and to increase the use of open data by government, civil society, journalists, and others in order to achieve systemic reforms and measurable impacts.

In 2020, we documented 37 publishers of OCDS data, up from 28 in 2019. This includes some large national publishers with data sets of millions of records, such as the procurement agencies of Chile and Colombia. We supported 11 publishers to improve the quality and completeness of their data, for example by adding data on contract implementation and planning. We also supported 51 actors from around the world to use OCDS data for research, monitoring, investigation, and analysis. Finally, 26 OCDS tools were reused (most of them multiple times). Tool reuse is one of the many benefits of standardization and allows our community to build on what others have developed. For example, publishers in Buenos Aires, Paraguay, and Domincan Republic reused our Flatten tool, which automates conversion between nested (JSON) and spreadsheet (CSV) data formats — meeting the needs of more users. The Mexican Access to Information Institution has developed a tool for collecting and publishing OCDS data that is now being used by access to information institutions in Mexican states and in Panama. The visualizations built by the government of Paraguay have been adopted by the government of Honduras.

How does impactful data publishing and use look in practice? 

In Paraguay, the national procurement agency DNCP has been publishing OCDS data since 2015 – one of the first publishers. In 2020, they significantly improved the quality of their OCDS publication by upgrading their publication to OCDS 1.1 and including the links to investment projects, their framework agreement process and purchases, their auctions and competitions, prequalifications, budget lines, payments and contract implementation data. Now, all of their contracting process stages and types are covered in the publication. 

Reusing the OCDS Flatten tool and OCDS Merge enabled them to go from SQL queries to JSON and CSV bulk publications with the same information, allowing more users to tap into the data. When the pandemic hit, we were able to work with them to ensure that procurement related to the COVID-19 response was tracked, reported and published. DNCP implemented more controls in covid purchases and included of Covid-related items into their virtual catalog for faster, better, and more inclusive acquisitions.

This data was then used by a wide range of users including journalists, the IDB’s MapaInversiones platform, tools for monitoring and analysis used by researchers and think tanks, and civil society organizations monitoring infrastructure and education revealing and addressing corruption schemes and inefficiencies in emergency purchases.

Supporting the open contracting data community

To support the open contracting data community, we made several key investments in 2020. First, we significantly improved the OCDS documentation, bringing all of our implementation guidance and tools into the same place. We also included examples for some of the trickiest concepts. We invested in our capacity building, delivering 50 community calls, training events, and webinars to hundreds of participants around the world (mostly virtually of course). 

Our recent community survey and feedback from our partners tells us that there is still room for improvement to make OCDS easier to implement and use. 

That is why we have set ourselves two priorities: Making OCDS data easier to find and use; and making OCDS easier to implement.

We are making a number of investments including a new data registry, a new and improved ‘flatten’ tool to convert data into spreadsheets, a re-written OCDS primer, and a learning page on our website. The data registry will enable any user to find and download data from any existing publisher, creating one of the largest databases of public procurement data globally. The registry will use the new flatten tool so that users can more easily access the data that they are looking for as spreadsheets. The Getting Started section of the OCDS documentation will be revamped to become a new Primer that will give publishers clearer guidance on what they need to do to publish high quality and useful data. And we will build a new learning page including learning videos and all of our existing user guides in one place. 

We will continue to support and work with partners to make data more usable and to use data to achieve measurable impact. This year, we are particularly excited about developing business intelligence tools for OCDS publishers, a new round of action research to investigate the equity and effectiveness of public procurement as we build back better from COVID-19, developing extensions for OCDS that would improve the usefulness of data related to medicines and vaccine procurement, and working with a new cohort of our Open Contracting Lift impact accelerator teams.
Publishing and using open contracting data is an ongoing process. We welcome your feedback, insights, and suggestions on how we can better support our community. Join our mailing list and  GitHub to participate and let us know how we can help.

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